When your users become aware of the data you are collecting will they be angry? Will you lose their trust? How long do you think you will be able to keep this secret?
The battle for privacy is shifting in favor of user protection. The data gathering practices we employ today may soon be illegal. For the first time, voices speaking up for user privacy have a chance of being heard within companies where anti-analytics advocates would have been laughed out of the room in the past. Afraid to speak up on behalf of our users, many of us fall back on weak justifications that will look ridiculous in hindsight. Imagine Mark Zuckerberg using our lame excuses to Congress by saying, “Marketing told me to do it” or “Everybody does it.”
We could get ahead of the backlash by voluntarily unplugging our analytics trackers. But that’s kind of terrifying, isn’t it? How would you measure success? How would you know who your users are? What did we do before Google analytics?
In the good old days you would improve your odds of success by hiring an expert. These artists were so deeply invested in their work, such master craftsmen that what they achieved looked like magic from the outside. We forget that there was a golden age of advertising, a time when ads actually worked, a time when brands still carried a whiff of humanity. Remember the radio? Remember the evening news? Remember the little thrill you would get when your favorite magazine appeared in your mailbox? It wasn’t data analysis powering these projects. It was hard-earned competency.
Eventually a new breed of data disciples appeared, questioning the relevance of those old-fashioned artisans. Who needs intuition when you have split testing? Who needs polarizing artistry when you can pinpoint your target demographic? Who needs experience when you can reuse proven patterns? Slowly the artists have been driven out of the business world. They were replaced by children raised on the unquestionable virtues of data. They still blindly believe that the source of creativity can be teased out of spreadsheets and dashboards.
That’s why it feels so risky to unplug the analytics cord. Who will fill the void when the data disappears? Are there any experts left who can lead us based on competency alone? The days of consequence-free data gathering seem to be coming to an end. What will happen when your analytics become illegal?